Director: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning
Running Time: 112 mins
Genre: Sci-Fi | Horror
J.J Abrams latest is a taught, tight and wholly tantalising journey into the mind of an 80’s kid. Many could; and will, argue that its generic and in no way would they be wrong; but it’s in the way Abrams makes a virtue of Super 8’s flaws that allows it to arise as the brightest jewel on Abrams crown. It’s not a perfect film, by quite a large margin - characters are inconsistent, the final reveal feels like a cheap trick and the way Abrams apes early Spielberg is a tad too obvious. It’s the broad strokes that make this such a pleasure to watch, while all of the cogs may not fit perfectly - the final product is gorgeous in the way its filmed, scored, acted and written...that all the little niggles become almost an afterthought.
Writer/director J.J. Abrams teams with producer Steven Spielberg for this period sci-fi thriller set in the late '70s, and centering on a mysterious train crash in a small Ohio town. Summer, 1979: a group of young friends are filming a Super-8 movie when a pickup truck derails a speeding train. When the locals start to disappear and even the inquisitive deputy can't come up with answers, suspicions emerge that the incident was anything but an accident. As the truth finally begins emerge, no one is prepared to learn what now stalks the unsuspecting citizens of this once quiet community. Kyle Chandler and Elle Fanning star.
The plot is reminiscent of early Spielberg, long before the days of mass production and prequels. ‘Super 8’ story feels genuine, it’s obvious from the get go that this is something close to Abrams heart - this makes it all the more enjoyable for us. Fans of 80’s cinema will lap up the enjoyably unsubtle winks and nods to films from that era (with call-backs to The Goonies and ET) whereas younger audience members will enjoy it on a whole new, fresher level. Lets ignore that for a second though; and take a look at this film through eyes unclouded by terms like “homage” and “pastiche” - ‘Super 8’ is staggeringly well done, the characters are written with care only a true craftsman could show, the film has emotional resonance unmatched by any other film this summer and while links to the afore mentioned films are undeniable, not once does ‘Super 8’ hide in their shadows. The brilliance is evidenced by the tears that we’re welling in my eyes towards the end of the film.
Two rules! Don’t work with animals or children! Or at least that’s what we we’re told. It’s hard to find decent child actors these days, they tend to stumble over lines, look at the camera or just plain suck - so it’s a downright miracle then, that Abrams found 6, excellent child actors! They do a fantastic job at selling the human story behind the madness and the monsters. Elle Fanning especially who defies all odds and outshines her sister by a large scope. Our lead shows great potential and does an outstanding job at making me care for his story and his beginnings. A scene that could have been emotionally manipulation in a lesser film is pulled of wonderfully all thanks to the strength of these characters. If I’m allowed one complaint, Noah Emmerich’s snarling sergeant is ripped straight from cliché 101.
It’s a mighty feat in this day and age to keep audiences hooked into your premise while tiptoeing round the monster, Spielberg did it with ‘Jaws’, Scott did it with ‘Alien’ and Abrams does a stunning job at letting your mind fill in the blank for just what the hell is going on. It’s true when they say that your mind can come up with something far more horrific than the movies can. With that, I salute him for sticking to his guns, he knows that the heart of this story is in the characters, the relationship between them - while a lesser director would dilute scenes of exposition and replace them with mindless explosions while Abrams allows us time to get to know these kids, and get to like them. It’s the sign of an auteur director, and one who’s come into his own and while Michael Bay spends millions blowing up cars, Abrams spends half that making a stunning movie.
Giacchino's score may very well be something I end up buying by the time this review is over, it’s sublime - but then it always is! It brilliantly compliments both the human aspects of the story and the aliens ones. Whereas Abrams is aping early Spielberg, Giacchino seems to be aping early James Horner, to brilliant effect. Abrams trademark lens flair is overplayed and the monster effects are generic but it’s hard to argue with the way the film looks. The train crash in particular, though over dramatic and physics defying, is a sight to behold and I can say enough great things about the score.
Verdict: At times, Super 8 is incomprehensible, clumsy and inconsistent. It's far from a perfect package, funny then, that I found myself overlooking almost every flaw in the name of a having a great time. The truth is, Abrams does such a stunning job at making a movie with heart and soul that its flaws become its virtue. ‘Super 8’ is a love letter to a cinematic era, before 'blockbuster' became a synonym for 'franchise' or 'tent pole.' It’s devilishly smart, the child actors are phenomenal and ‘Super 8’ has one thing that no other movie this year has been able to show us - true heart. It’s a testament to genuine filmmaking and that’s what makes it so easy to fall in love with. Super 8 is an unapologetic joy from beginning to end that will thrill and engage kids, both old and new. The films works perfectly on both an emotional and suspenseful level. Every aesthetic from Giacchino's score to Abrams' use of lens flares was epic!
+ Its a testament to genuine filmmaking!
+ Each child actor is better than the last. With Elle Fanning delivering a staggering performance.
+ Giacchino’s score is beautiful and haunting.
+ You don’t get films like this anymore!
+ Anybody with nostalgia needs to see this immediately.
- The ending could have used a bit more work!